All Upsot

They say you should write what you know. Many writers seem to interpret this as only writing about things they have experienced, which would be very limiting. Me? I’d never have written about a midair conflict between a Roc and a bush plane, or the cerebral battle between an old woman and a relentless alien foe, or… What I do is take things I have observed, or gone through myself, and weave those into tales that are set in other worlds, on other planets, but told about people (no matter their shape or color) very much like ourselves. Write what you know ought to be interpreted in a way to spin the certainties of life into new stories that come to life in reader’s minds with their elements of shared humanity.

I’m writing this because I had the dubious pleasure of acquiring a new experience last week. We’re moving, which I have done before many time, so it’s an old familiar pain. I’ve been working seven days a week and flirting with exhaustion, which is something I’ve written about in the past (title story), it’s been so much a part of my life for so many years. I had a moment where I contemplated what life would be like if I were blind. As the First Reader and I discussed later, once I was home, and all was well again, it would be very difficult to adjust to that loss. Losing a whole sense is not something I’ve ever done – even though I am legally blind without my glasses! – and there were some long moments sitting on a hospital bed waiting for the doctor. It would turn my whole life on it’s ear, and all I could think about sitting there was having to give up reading.

It only takes a second, and life changes. Everything is all upsot, and life goes on a different path. These junctions in life – the road not traveled, and the road taken because it was the only choice at the time – make for good stories. Living through them is much less fun. For one thing, you might not know it’s happening at the time. There’s a splash, and you wash out your burning eyes. Later, the eyes are still burning, so you ask for some saline thinking the rush of water irritated them, and suddenly it’s a three ring circus. Sent to urgent care, you obediently depart, insisting that you’re fine, it’s fine! only to arrive there, have them look at you in horror when you explain what happened, and they send you to the emergency room. This is where our character suddenly realizes that maybe everything isn’t fine, because their eyes are still burning and it’s been four hours. And because the doctor asks with concern ‘who drove you? You drove yourself?’ and you insist you’re safe to drive… Off to the ER and again they whisk you right back while skimming the SDS you were helpfully carrying while asking a lot of questions. That’s when our character gets the spiel from the ER doc about necrosis and erosion damage that can happen over time and… Suddenly all is not fine. Also, I can now write with authority about having pH strips shoved in one’s eyes, and about the dye they use to diagnose damage to the eyeball. 10/10 will not do again.

As an author, I can take this one of two ways, here. I can spin a tale of what happens afterward. From the nonchalant worker who insists it’s not a big deal, to a life-changing consequence. Or I can take it the path I have walked, to no long-term damage and just having to endure goop in the eyes three times a day. I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again in a few days, but it will be a while before I take my sight for granted again. Right afterward I wanted to take the camera and go look at flowers, but I was goopy. So that will have to wait. Spinning a tale, it’s a good place to have our character change, solemn with the weight of what could have been. Me? Well, probably not. I carried on with life. Which might be something to put in a story, too. How sometimes you gather yourself up, joke with the ER doc until you get her to crack a smile and make the nurses laugh. Tell her to go to the code, that it’s more important in the context of things.

Write what you know. Even if that’s something stark, that ends in something joyful. And enjoy a sunset sometime soon, because eyes are fragile. Life is fragile. Embrace it, and write about it, while you can.


    1. Same – I’m 20/400 without the glasses. But the glasses correct me nicely. I was not a happy camper for a while until I got the word that it was superficial only.

      1. Though nearsighted, I was correctable to 20/20 until recently. No longer. I tell my docs I knew too many men that never got the chance to get old to complain about the niggly bits of that state. Those guys would trade with me in a skinny instant.

      2. Needs glasses to find glasses, eh? What was this splish-splash chemical you became a lab experiment for? I wish to avoid it entirely, no matter what I need to know. :O

        1. Considering a sequel to a post-apoc story I wrote a while back. When brainstorming plot ideas, I realized that one of the main characters has broken glasses . . .

        2. I’m not saying it was, but it might have been collecting a sample over their head of a liquid, and having a blind leak of something containing caustic that they didn’t know was there… That port had never been used prior.

            1. If that’s what happened, and I’m not saying it was, immediate measures were taken to ensure that no-one else would run into the same issue. Primarily, wearing full goggles with a rubber seal, and a face shield (insufficient in itself as they are open at the top) It just was the first time it was done, and someone had to be the guinea pig.

              1. Much better than the (in)famous, “No worries, I’m sure it’s empty, just turn the valve full on.”

                Or in my case, “Yep, all the gas is out of the tank.” After I removed the failed fuel pump and got bathed in five gallons of avgas: “Oh, you meant usable, not total?” Don’t be that pilot. Or that mechanic.

    2. I had some of this just after eye surgery. The first time, I had a smallish bubble in the eye, and the trip from Medford (1250′ elevation) to the summit (5100′) needed only small waits. The second eye had a much larger and persistent bubble, and after waiting before a long grade, I drove 5 miles. I didn’t know that the road climbed from 1800′ to 3500′ in that distance, but my eye did. The pressure caused the vision in that eye to cut out for a while. Vision returned after 15 minutes, but each climb (this time much shorter) repeated the cycle until the summit. Descent to home (4300′) was all right, and vision was OK within a half hour or so.

      The sense of being completely blind in one eye, even for a short time, was nerve wracking. There was no permanent damage, but that was far more exciting than I wanted.

      The next trip, I used a GPS altimeter, and stopped every 250′ to 500′ elevation gain. Much less drama. I have another one scheduled for next week, and the bubble is still present (long-lasting gas, C2F6). I’ll take redundant altimeters…

  1. I’m glad your eyes will be okay. That moment when you first wonder — is this really a complete turning point — is quite scary! I wrote about a child with cancer, in a hospital, because that was what I knew, and put it inside a bit of a mystery because that’s what I like to read. (Then I published it under a pseudonym because it seemed too personal and/or revealing.)

  2. What brought about your use of the word “upsot”? The reason I ask is because I wrote a humorous piece about Christmas and winter-themed songs for my Yuletide mailing last year, and came across “upsot” in one of the less sung verses of “Jingle Bells.” it seemed to be a bit of verbal whimsy that may have tickled folks in the mid-Nineteenth Century as a rural dialect sort of thing, but judging from comments I’ve seen on-line, it just puzzles modern audiences who come across it. Barbra Streisand even makes a note of it when she essays “Jingle Bells” on her Christmas album.
    A day or two ago
    I thought I’d take a ride
    And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
    Was seated by my side
    The horse was lean and lank
    Misfortune seemed his lot
    He got into a drifted bank
    And then we got upsot

  3. Glad to hear it turned out much like mine. As Betsy guessed, I’m not commenting on your writing idea, but commenting on your actual experience by dragging out my own close call.

    Back in our first year of marriage I was working as a milker and hired hand on a local dairy farm. One time when I went to drive the one tractor to take out the manure spreader, the batter exploded, shooting acid in my face (Another worked had put the metal cover back on the battery after fixing something without putting the insulation pad on first) I ended up running to the house,where Betsy got the owner, who took me to the emergency room, and the flushing of my eyes got it all and I escaped without any permanent damage, though I was scared but not witless for awhile. (My ophthalmologist checks every year still and no damage has yet shown from it.

    So welcome to the sorority/fraternity off close calls,one no one is busting down the doors to pledge to.

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